3 Rules for Creating Native Content You Can Be Confident About

Frank Cutitta

You should know by now that native content production (aka brand journalism) has become key to showcasing your brand’s thought leadership in what was previously hallowed ground in media property editorial pages. Research tells you that, in some segments, this new format is growing at 70 percent a year to avoid the digital ad noise on many sites.

Your marketing executives are pressuring you about where your native content production strategies stand and how you’re planning to quantify the investment in these new platforms. You’re getting anxious. How do you build a native brand journalism strategy that screams return from the get-go?

The operative word is investment and it manifests itself in both soft and hard costs. Here are three rules for reducing performance anxiety surrounding native content development.

3 Rules for Native Content Production You Can Be Confident About

Rule #1: Don’t put lipstick on brochure-ware.

We’ve all been accustomed to developing white papers, e-books and webcasts that include direct reference to product and brand — some references more shameless than others. But there is a softer intellectual investment in native content that is very different than the more traditional content marketing strategies.

Native content production should be done in a “clean room.” Not unlike drugs or computer chips, the sterility of the lab is directly related to the efficacy of the product. Most technology product and brand managers operate in a marketplace where content is down and dirty by design, and in most cases, in complete contrast to brand journalism. The content is riddled with competitive throwdowns like faster, safer, cheaper, easier, bigger.

Having been one, I can tell you that product managers love to tell marketing to “make my existing content native.” Rarely can this transformation be done without a hefty investment and with a very a high level of performance anxiety.

In most cases, it’s simply more effective to create native content from scratch.

Even if the marketing budget is atypically generous, finding the intellectual resources to invest in is a challenge. There is no surplus of talent that can creatively transform B2B messaging into compelling, squeaky-clean thought-leadership content. It’s not like buying one of those kits from auto supply sites to take a Volkswagen beetle chassis and transform it into a faux Aston Martin body.

Rule #2: Enrich long form with embedded engagements.

The second investment consideration is related to the “economies of small." Many entry-level students of native content have been taught that the form factor needs to be the equivalent of a two-hour script for a PBS documentary.

This is where there is some debate among brand journalists, native content marketers and content analytics wonks like myself. While all agree that native content production needs to be non-commercial, philosophies vary as to how best to deliver it for full impact and performance.

One school of native teaches that brand journalism is best served in long form in order to permit deeper thought and longer, more intimate engagements that assure navigation within the depths of the folio. This also requires creative in-document linking strategy that will produce performance metrics related to the in-document link engagement.

One of the highest levels of performance anxiety is the angst about whether the reader actually made it completely through the document. Did I pay a writer $1,000 only to find readers engaged with the $250 worth in the first three paragraphs?

Sure, there are platforms that monitor whether people scroll to the bottom, but that’s a completely different performance metric than if audiences voluntarily read to the bottom. So, links that add intellectual value to that section of the native piece provide a bonus engagement to readers, as well as a behavioral metric that could show the difference between a tire-kicker and a power buyer. But again, this all becomes meaningless unless the native content has, as its raison d’ etre, a compelling and thought-provoking premise that holds readers’ attention like a docudrama.

It's important to note that most media companies will put restrictions on the destination of hyperlinks within native, brand journalism content. If a link leads to a commercial asset or even a press corporate release, it could be considered commercial and the entire piece can be rejected until fine-tuned. Be sure that links add value and not pitch-time.

Rule #3: Align native content emotion with that of the buying persona.

Native shares the same “random acts of content” risks as commercial content. As you look for greater performance ROI on your native brand journalism investments, you need to look at what an engagement with that asset really means. In far too many cases, the metric is that “demographic A engaged with Native Content B,” without factoring in the “emotional resonance.”

Since native is more emotional by design, smart marketers are using prescriptive content that includes sentiment factors that go well beyond organizational level and degree of difficulty of the content asset. By including these emotional taxonomies into the engagement metrics for that asset, marketers are able to provide their sales counterparts with a much more robust behavioral dossier than the typical “business card data” lead.

Most important is that emotion in healthcare assets has the ability to increase engagement time when done creatively. Take a look at this video produced by the award-winning content marketers at Cleveland Clinic and tell me how long your engagement was compared to other videos of that length.

Technology is starting to track the true facial micro-emotion that occurs during a video engagement so that marketers can get a very real sense of real-time performance. The startup Real Eyes uses a sophisticated emotional algorithm coupled with a webcam feed of the reader engaging with content to get a true read on emotional metrics. In theory, the camera could track the tears from the reader’s eyes while watching the Cleveland Clinic video to measure the impact of the native content.

The morale of the story? Native performance metrics don’t occur after the engagement; they occur before the asset is designed. In that way, every engagement produces deeper emotional and business insights about the buyer collective (ROI) that cannot be accomplished with a strategy that only records the content type and the prospect’s contact information.

Native Content: Educational, Enriched, Emotional

Developing native content that drives results doesn't have to be stressful, and it can have a positive impact on your HIT marketing efforts. Just remember the three E's: educational, enriched and emotional. Educate your audience to provide real value, as opposed to simply marketing your product. Enrich your content with links and additional resources to increase the educational value and improve engagement rates. And lastly, create native content with the reader's response in mind; if it resonates emotionally, it's much more likely to elicit the desired response.

HIMSS Media Lab is currently studying all forms of native brand journalism performance tracking occurring in the 300,000 engagements with healthcare IT executives we record every day on our monitoring system. At the risk of breaking the commercialism rules of native content, see what our team can do to help you with creating high-quality content!

About the Author

As head of our Center for Content Analytics, Frank builds "weapons of mass discussion," aka, compelling content that buyers can’t resist. He’s launched media and data companies in 95 countries, served as global CEO of the International Advertising Association, and was named one of the top 40 influencers and innovators in media. Frank also teaches graduate courses at Northeastern University, and, if you ask nicely, will offer you some of his homemade beef jerky.

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